Tsunami Ready

Godzilla Attacks

In 2014, San Francisco has seen it all: Radioactive reptiles battling out along our waterfront and super smart apes annihilating the remnants of mankind. It’s been disastrous year for San Francisco… in the movies.  Here’s one you might have missed:

It is a cool, overcast morning in San Francisco.  It’s been a wet month with rainfall reaching record levels leaving the ground waterlogged.  It’s also Spring Break which means there are thousands of people enjoying themselves along the Embarcadero, Marina, and beaches despite the clouds.

At 8:00 a.m. a magnitude 9.1 earthquake occurs off the coast of Alaska.  Within 5 minutes of the underwater tremor, San Francisco receives an alert from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  NOAA has just declared a Tsunami Watch for the entire west coast of the United States.  A tsunami could arrive in San Francisco within four to six hours. 

Sound like a good action flick? We’ll save you the time it takes to search IMDB or Google.  This was the scenario put before dozens of emergency managers, community partners, and local, state, and federal officials during San Francisco’s three-day tsunami exercise in March.  The goals of the exercise were to practice our City’s alert and warning procedures, response capabilities, and recovery operations before, during, and after a tsunami.

EOC Staff coordinate San Francisco's response to a simulated tsunami. Photo by Michael Mustacchi

EOC Staff coordinate San Francisco’s response to a simulated tsunami. Photo by Michael Mustacchi

One might ask, “That seems like a waste of time. Isn’t the likelihood of tsunami pretty low in San Francisco?”

Great question.  San Francisco plans and prepares for all emergencies. Since 1850, over fifty tsunamis have been recorded or observed in the San Francisco Bay. The most recent event was during the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which registered three to four foot waves in parts of the bay and resulted in approximately $100 million in damage statewide.

San Francisco's Tsunami Inundation Zones

San Francisco’s Tsunami Inundation Zones

San Francisco’s tsunami risk includes neighborhoods along both the ocean and the bay. We’re fortunate that our risk for a local source tsunami, where we don’t receive much warning, is low. What is possible is a distant source tsunami. An example is an earthquake, landslide, or other seismic event that takes place off the coast of Alaska. In this scenario, a tsunami could reach San Francisco in 4 to 6 hours.

Planning for a tsunami or any emergency isn’t about preparing for Armageddon.  It’s about taking smart and practical actions.  For San Francisco, it’s practicing our skills and capabilities. The National Weather Service recently re-accredited the City and County as a Tsunami Ready and Storm Ready community in recognition of our emergency operations, capabilities to receive and issue emergency alerts, promotion of public preparedness, and response plan development and exercises. For the public, it’s about knowing what to do.  Here are some quick tips to get you started:

  • Move inland and head to higher ground during a tsunami.
  • If you are in a coastal area and feel an earthquake with strong shaking lasting a minute or more, drop, cover, and hold on until the shaking stops, then move immediately to higher ground.
  • Always wait for local authorities to tell you when it is safe to return to affected areas.

To learn more about how San Francisco plans and trains for all emergencies visit www.sfdem.org.  For easy to use guides on how you can prepare visit www.sf72.org.

 

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Posted on June 23, 2014, in Alert and Warning, Preparedness, Recovery, Resilience and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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